Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Free lunch fraud debate still going strong

The perennial debate over fraud in the free- and reduced-priced lunch program flared once again at last night's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting. Board members have been discussing the issue for years. Back in 2008, they moved towards auditing a random sampling of applications for the federally subsidized lunch program to see how many families were cheating. But they dropped that idea after being told some $34 million in lunch subsidies could be taken away if they didn't follow federal rules stipulating that they "may do no more" than the checks prescribed by Washington. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture tells school systems to check 3 percent of applications filed by families whose yearly income falls within $100 of the cutoff levels for aid).

Anyway, the debate popped up again last night after Cindy Hobbs, head of CMS' child nutrition program, briefed the board on the latest audit results, which showed 236 applications had been checked, and 66 didn't supply verification documents matching the income reported on the application. In another 36 cases, the families didn't respond. Board members Rhonda Lennon, Kaye McGarry and Tim Morgan said if potentially 43 percent of those applications had flaws, there must be thousands of similar cases of ineligible students receiving subsidized lunches. By Morgan's math, about 11,000.

All of which prompted the same round of debate that's been going on for years on the school board. Coach Joe White, Richard McElrath and others suggested there's probably no way to find out how many people are cheating, so just feed the kids. Lennon took offense, stressing that she wasn't suggesting letting kids go hungry. She said her main concern is the fact that CMS uses the free-lunch figures to determine lots of other things, including who gets exemptions from Advanced Placement test fees and sports fees, and figuring how many additional teachers to assign schools. That prompted Superintendent Peter Gorman to repeat what he always says: the free-lunch figures, whatever their flaws, are the best tool CMS has for predicting which students will struggle and need extra help.

Lennon was undeterred.

"You're going to hear way more about this from me," she said. "That's not a threat. That's a promise."


Anonymous said...

I have an issue with the kids being fed for free--if their parents can't feed them, then they should not be having them! I'm tired of my tax dollars being used to pay for everything the parents should be providing. Growing up only my dad worked, never making more than $20,000 a year but yet we always got lunch money and were never hungry. Back then it was a stigma to get free lunch. It should return as a stigma, along with having babies out of wedlock.

Wiley Coyote said...

Maybe all of the rantin and raving I have been putting forth here is paying off.

Just the other day I posted this information showing that according to the Fed's Title I demographics for CMS schools, there are 29,514 5 to 17 year olds designated falling in the poverty level.

CMS says based on their school lunch program numbers, we have over 74,000 low income students getting FRL.

If you take the potentially 60% of those students getting the benefit but don't qualify, that means 44,000 would come off the program - thus bringing the total number down to 30,000.

Strange how all of a sudden those numbers almost match perfectly.

This program (Title I) provides financial assistance through State educational agencies (SEAs) to local educational agencies (LEAs) and public schools with high numbers or percentages of poor children to help ensure that all children meet challenging State academic content and student academic achievement standards.

LEAs target the Title I funds they receive to public schools with the highest percentages of children from low-income families. Unless a participating school is operating a schoolwide program, the school must focus Title I services on children who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet State academic standards. Schools enrolling at least 40 percent of students from poor families are eligible to use Title I funds for schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school.

In 2009, the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates for Charlotte Mecklenburg listed the number of children in poverty between the ages of 5 and 17 to be 29,514. The total 5 to 17 population is listed as 163,361.

Based on the USDA school lunch program, there are a little over 74,000 students getting free or reduced lunches out of a 135,000 CMS student population.

CMS sample audits showed that at least 60% of applicants in the sample audit did not qualify.

If the sample audit held true across the board, then the real number would be closer to 30,000 students who would actually meet the requirements.

It's amazing how if the 60% who possibly don't qualify are removed from the rolls and the number goes down to 30,000 how close that matches the federal government's poverty census estimates for CMS at 29,514.

We need to get a verifiable number in order to really target funds to students who truly need the help, instead of turning a blind eye to the problem and wasting money.

NCdirtdigger said...

Just to save everyone the trouble.......RACIST!

therestofthestory said...

Actually the state legislature can protect CMS lfrom osing the FRL money for those truly qualify if full verification was required or a full audit was conducted.

However, I think the fire will erupt soon enough when the state legislature figures out they can better draw the Mecklenburg County BOCC lines themselves.

Anonymous said...

Whats the problem? Its just other people's money, again.

Anonymous said...

Interview the teachers as part of the ongoing process of determining who gets free and reduced lunch. They can tell you specifically who is sporting new kicks, new cell phones, new weaves, etc. and are still getting entitlement dollars.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Repubs are trying to starve the kids again..(sarcasm)
And how come the ones on foodstamps are usually the largest in line at the grocery store?

Anonymous said...

The FLP is a complete joke! This is blatant stealing from the system that hurts everyone! The program is designed to help those that TRULY need help and I am ALL FOR THAT! No child in this country should EVER worry about where their next meal is coming from. What I can't stand are the parents that FRAUDULENTLY STEAL from the system. It increases the entire system costs and impacts parents who now much have to pay for athletic fees, IB and AP exams etc. AUDIT it or CANCEL it....BUT STOP THE STEALING ALREADY!!!

Anonymous said...

I would assume that if you qualify for free lunch, you would qualify for food stamps as well. Is there a reason these children cannot pack a lunch, since it's already been provided?

Anonymous said...

For me, it is not about the kids who don't qualify being fed for free. It is about all the other perks that go to these schools with high percentages of free lunch students, because that takes away resources from kids in the suburban school. I hope Rhonda continues bringing this up; maybe it will ultimately lead to the defeat of school board members and county commissioners who insist on this funding formula and want to look the other way when it comes to abusing the system.

Anonymous said...

This does need to be addressed and fixed once and for all. Using garbage numbers to base a budget on is insane. But so is the fact that I just heard from my child again that Northwest's cafeteria has run out of food again, for at least the second if not third time in a week. Can they not even plan for the number of kids there? Or are they assuming it's exam time so kids will be leaving, after they were told they couldn't?

aman2187 said...

stay on point Rhonda...don't blame the kids, blame the parents cheating the system. And people wonder why the country is going broke

Stopthehandouts said...

I agree with Anon 12:36 PM...My father also a very modest income and my parents' pride wouldn't allow them to accept free or reduced lunches for us, although we would have qualified. I took sammiches to school every day. To restate another post, the same people also qualify for food stamps also quailfy for free/reduced lunches, so let their kids take sammiches too paid for with their food stamps.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of those kids that get free lunches have cell phones or the parents have cell phones, season tickets to Carowinds and other niceties and not necessities while Joe tax payer pays their bill.
No student should go hungry but maybe these families should live within their means and not get handouts so they can enjoy some of the finer things they feel entitled to.

Stopthehandouts said...

The title of this article should have been, "Free lunch fraud still going strong"

Anonymous said...

Dear CMS School Board Member,

With all due respect for the outstanding job you are doing in a difficult situation you need to AUDIT the Free Lunch Program and STOP THE BLATANT STEALING
or consider resigning your position to make way for others who still have the passion to DO THE RIGHT THING. This is no time to turn a blind eye!!!

Anonymous said...

So, the 102 that didnt either supply the corect information or didnt qualify. Are they still on the program??

Anonymous said...

They need to start showering and clothing these children. After all if they need this food they are in dire need.

Anonymous said...

I was working in a school office last summer and it was standing room only families waiting to register in August. One mother asked for a free lunch form and ALL OF A SUDDEN, twenty other parents said, "we need one too". Are you kidding me? The FLP is a JOKE and needs to be rectified, someway, some how. I wish we could just ask to see their W2 because most of these thieves drive off in BMW's and live in or around the country club. It is a sad farce, but I bet they all sleep just fine.

Anonymous said...

Worked with a black guy who would brag about getting free lunches. It's what they live for.

Ghoul said...

Parents who fraudulently claim free lunches for their kids need to be arrested, charged with stealing from the government, and thrown in jail. If only a few were made examples of, the rest would drop out quickly.

Anonymous said...

For those of you who don't remember what it is like to be in school: being on free and reduced lunch is embarrassing as heck for children.

A better solution would be to provide meals to all school children instead of demonizing families who fall $100 one way or the other of the guideline. The federal poverty guideline is $22K for a family of 4, lest we forget.

Anonymous said...

If we expect people to start feeding these kids we are going to have to increase the other government assistance they receive.

Anonymous said...

I personally worked with helping verify the Free Lunch Program forms at a CharMeck High School. Most of the forms were incomplete but I was told to let them be. I was told, "the more applications we have, the more money we get". It is a joke! I could not get parents to send in verification but they remained in the program. Some of the students said their parents never turn in any verification. I have seen many students get extra food for their friends and chalk it up to free lunch. Nothing will change because of the tremendous amount of money coming into the school system from the government!

Anonymous said...

I worked with a couple black chicks who freely admitted that they blatantly lied about their incomes "so dey chaps cud git free lunrch". Disgusting but that's their culture. They think nothing of talking about how Christian they are, yet they'll steal the shoes out from under your feet.

Anonymous said...

Embarring! Where have you been for the last decade or so. I volunteer at the schools and watch it happen.

The get a card just like the people who pay for meals. No one knows who pays and the kids just slide it.

So if you think any of the other kids know you are mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:45 PM - You are missing the point. Yes, years ago, it was a stigma for most. Now, it's a source of pride for many that they have 'worked the system'. I'm a single mom and I'm sure at some point in my daughter's life, she would have qualified for FRL, but I would never even apply. It was admitting I wasn't able to do my job as a parent, so I would make sure my daughter had lunch money, even if it meant I didn't. But people don't think that way anymore. It's all about what can someone else do for me. It's a moral shame.

Anonymous said...

The worst part of all this is that they base the poverty level of the school on this unverifed program.

That way it is a case of the blind leading to the blind results that they hope and will expect to get.

Anonymous said...

When I see less of Coffed hair and finely maniured nails with pictures on each of them coming in and yelling about their little one being mistreated because they did not do their homework, then I will feel sorry about them asking for anything new in the free department from the schools.

Oh I never see any Father nor do you see them memtioned in the records. Hey and this is not a Black thing is is a young female thing.

Anonymous said...

The Federal Government spends $93 Billion...BILLION on free school lunches. Imagine what that could do for the underpaid teachers out there. And I'm not even a teacher.

Anonymous said...

I have read all of the postings regarding the subject of free lunch and it all amounts to one thing FRAUD! Some of the comments that were left tried to implicate certain ethnic groups, please be reminded that FRAUD AND DISHONESTY have NO COLOR. As a public educator of 22 years, I have witnessed free lunch fraud committed in every shade of the rainbow. The bottom line is that this abuse does need to be investigated however, you are fooling yourselves if you believe that only minorities take advantage of this free money! Wake up and stop RACISM. Unless we begin to comment on the issues that affect us collectively, we will never move forward for the benefit of our communities!

theretofthestory said...

to 7:01 PM, I understand your position. I know the statistics indicate all races are in such programs and such programs have a fraud rate the federal government seems to even encourage. Bottom line though, CMS has agressively pushed upon our society this allowed fraud rate for this specific race. As if it is some sort of repayment for past descrimination. You see it immediately when discussion is raised about the fraud. Who is the first and loudest to shout? Kinda answers the question for me.

It was probably tolerable to a level but now with CMS using it for more agressive non value funding to FOCUS schools, forgiving sport fees, forgiving exam fees, etc. that it is becoming rubbing salt into the wound of the good and responsible families of this community, with exception of those in the current economic downturn.

However, Wiley is dead on with his analysis. This can not be ignored anymore. Why do we accept this fraud and dishonesty? Why do we as a society now have to accept this low level of civility, maturity, and general trash behavior?

Anonymous said...

Filling out a form fraudulently isn't the only problem I see. A large majority of the families receiving free meals have no Social Security numbers for the form. Are they here illegally? Those are the only adults I know that don't seem to have a social security number!

Also, what about all the negative balances the paid and free kids have - who pays for that, the school board? You don't get to go to McDonalds and tell them you'll pay later.

Anonymous said...

Feeling the squeeze yet again.... From a prior Charlotte Observer article:
Posted: Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will need financial support from the community to help make its pay-to-play athletic participation program work, Superintendent Peter Gorman said Wednesday.

Beginning this year, CMS is requiring student-athletes in middle and high schools to pay participation fees in reaction to the school system's budget cuts.

Middle school students must pay $50, and there is a $100 fee for high school students.

Because the fees aren't due yet, it's too early to say how they'll affect student participation.

Student-athletes who receive free or reduced-price lunches - a federal measure of poverty - will be granted a waiver from the fees. In addition, said CMS Athletic Director Vicki Hamilton, students whose families are not below the poverty level but are suffering unduly from the recession will be considered for the waivers.

Gorman said CMS needs 85 percent of students to pay the fees in order to break even.

"Unfortunately, about 50 percent of our students receive free or reduced-price lunches," he said.

So CMS has asked the community for help, and Hamilton said the school system has received $67,000 to assist in paying the waivers - including a $56,000 donation from the Charlotte Touchdown Club.

"The community has been very generous, but we're looking for more help," Hamilton said.

Gorman said CMS is ready to move some money from other parts of the budget to help the pay-to-play system break even, but he hopes that won't be necessary. Either way, he pointed out, much less will be spent by the school system in the coming year for athletics.

High school students will have until early September to pay fees for fall sports, and middle school students will have until early October. Parents can pay at the school, or they will be able to pay online (at the CMS website), starting Aug. 25.

In a variation from other pay-to-play programs, high schools will hold tryouts before the fees are due. Students who do not make teams will not have to pay.

Once they make the team, paying the fees won't guarantee playing time, Hamilton said. Staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed
Free lunch gets you more than just lunch!

Wiley Coyote said...

Here's a very good read that includes Charlotte and Wake in the article...

Fraud in the Lunchroom?
Federal school-lunch program may not be a reliable measure of poverty

....At the very least, Congress should establish clearer guidelines for school districts to investigate suspected fraud and explore alternative income-documentation methods that would provide greater reliability for program data. Given the amount of taxpayer dollars devoted to school lunch, and the range of policies and research based on the program, lawmakers can’t afford to do nothing.

Coach Joe White, Richard McElrath and others suggested there's probably no way to find out how many people are cheating, so just feed the kids.

The people listed above are prime examples of what is wrong with public education and has been for decades.

Bury your heads in the sand and hold up a sign that proclaims you part of the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Girls! Don't like your 'rents tellin' you what you can't do? Get pregnant and social services will set you up with food stamps and a place to live. They take care of your kids too, show you how to get them free lunch when they in school. Jus' keep your guys out of the picture and you alright. When you vote don't let mean Republicans take this away from you.

Anonymous said...

A poster wrote “ Don’t let mean Republicans take your social services from Ya” What an oxymoron when its Republicans promoting abandoning a woman’s rights to abortions, while they steal just as much of your hard earned money to keep up their own illegitimate babies! Know thy enemy you ignorant “trailer trashers”.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 6:06..

There are all kinds of stealing of tax monies going on, especially by Democrats.

The head Democrat Socialist Obama has plainly stated he intends to redistribute wealth in this country.

He has also driven up the largest debt in US history, robbing from our children and their children for decades to come.

Just what we need, more entitlements for people who do nothing and pay nothing to support this country.

Anonymous said...

Why is always declared as racism to bring up the fact that the blacks are responsible for over 90%of the fraud in this program?

Anonymous said...

True, it would be better if we had accurate FRL numbers on which to base other decisions. Making sure kids have a hot lunch every day doesn't seem like such a terrible waste of tax money to me though. And somehow I have a suspicion that the schools receiving extra funds based on high FRL percentages are not actually wealthy schools in disguise running a con game. Teachers in high poverty schools will tell you that FL is the best meal many students get, sometimes the only one. Worth the cost.

Anonymous said...

If your a republican please do not make stupid commments about Democrats stealing people hard earned tax dollars. These kids steal millions in lunch while republicans steal millions in bank loans and live off government bailouts. Bot Republicans and Democrats know no shame.

Anonymous said...

Detinitely the tragedy of the commons at work again.

Nothing like putting a "free" sign up to encourage cheating and abuse of a resource.

Too bad.

As a society we used to be able to trust people to be somewhat honest, but that isn't the case now.

Even during the Great Depression many people were reluctant to take "handouts" they hadn't worked for.

No problem with that today, though.

Anonymous said...

As I've said before, we need two kinds of schools in CMS.

One to provide pure social services for the "needy" staffed with social workers (like a government run daycare/orphanage).

And another to provide an actual education to those who have families that really care and provide for their children.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 10:39...

CMS has over 74,000 kids on the program. CMS sample audits have shown that based on the responses of the sample audits, 60% don't qualify.

If 60% holds true across the program, that means 44,000 out of the 75,000 won't qualify. That's a huge amount of waste.

I'm not against the program, as there are kids who do qualify and really need the help. But to continue doling out millions of dollars to those who don't qualify, where those dollars could go to help hire more teachers, etc, is ridiculous.

Joe White says "just feed the kids" while turning a blind eye to all the fraud.

What does that say to kids who grow up with the mentality it's ok to defraud the system?

Why not say the same thing about tax cheats? "Oh just let them go on cheating the system"....

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 12:22...

I'm an Independent. I am not a sheeple and don't subscribe to either party platform.

Both have done plenty to cause current and past problems in this country.

Perhaps you didn't hear, see or read about Obama's plan to redistribute wealth in this country... obvious that Barack Obama does not see taxation as a means to pay for government works, rather he sees taxes as a socialist system of wealth redistribution.

If you apply Obama’s “fairness” policies to schools, you’ll get a better idea of how this works…

Let’s say your child is studying for an important test. He comes home from school and studies hard and diligently for hours. He learns the material, and when he takes his test, he gets an A+ thanks to his hard work.

But then the teacher goes to him and says “You did great, but Billy and Jack didn’t do so well. They both got D’s on the test. In order to make things fair, we’re going to take away two of your grade points and give it to them, so now you all have C’s.”

Your child cries to you about how he worked so hard to earn an A, while Billy and Jack played video games. You complain to the teacher about it not being “fair,” because your child worked for his grade while the other two didn’t. Your complaints fall on deaf ears, since to the school, their definition of fairness means everyone gets the same grade, while your definition of fairness is that you get what you work for.

Now, your child gives up studying and plays video games all day because he can’t see the point in studying hard when everyone gets the same grade due to the school redistributing them.

If it were your child this happened to, chances are you’d raise holy hell to make sure his hard work got rewarded. But when it comes to other people’s money, most wouldn’t fight for the “fairness” of others keeping more of what they worked hard to earn.

Anonymous said...

You all can save your breath. The reason why CMS does not want to do anything about the FRL debacle is because it receives FREE money from the government based on those numbers.

If CMS wanted to curtail this problem, it could have done something about it a LONG time ago. They are the ones cheating and stealing!

And I would love to hear more rants about the big bailouts....a bunch of white collar cheats. Pay for your own diamond necklaces, don't use our money to do it.

There is enough lying, cheating, and stealing to go around.

Anonymous said...

Someone posted:
"This can not be ignored anymore. Why do we accept this fraud and dishonesty? Why do we as a society now have to accept this low level of civility, maturity, and general trash behavior?"

Why? Because MOST of the people doing so are African American or Hispanic. To "call them out" would be to tug at the boundary lines of racial issues that CMS and this community are not willing to tug. If you accuse people of fraud... they will cry racism--it has worked so well every other time they keep doing it.

Anonymous said...

We all know that there is alot of cheating with the FRL numbers.
As for the AP test and Sport Fees being waived, I think that each student/athlete should be given 1 free AP test and 1 free sport then pro-rate or charge full price for the other tests and sports.
It amazes me how a high school student can get Free Reduced Lunch play 3 sports per year at no charge(every one else pays 100 each sport) take AP(very few students)test but can wear $150 tennis shoes $75 jeans to their knees and DRIVE a car with current plates with a sound system that makes the cars behind/in front of shake.
Not to mention gas is almost $4 a gallon.
It's time that Gorman and the board stop this nonsense.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 8:19...

Unfortunately the BOE and Gorman can't technically stop the fraud in the lunch program. The USDA threatened to yank $34 million in funds if they continued.

However, they can request and/or pressure our congressional representatives in Washington to demand the USDA allow CMS the ability to do a full and fair audit of the program.

Most BOE members don't want to touch the issue because they will be labeled racists or falsely accused of taking food out of the mouths of children, which is intended to keep the entitlements coming.

The more kids on the roles of the lunch program, the more money CMS gets and the rest of us get hosed.

Here's a little sample of why we're mired down in this issue and others in CMS....from 2008:

“I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, even though we’re pussyfooting around, that there are thousands of students here that probably are not entitled to this government benefit,” said Larry Gauvreau, a school board member for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Other elected officials call further verification efforts a “witch hunt” aimed at poor families. “Poor people don’t know how to steal from the federal government. They’re not smart enough,” said CMS school board member Vilma Leake.

"Not smart enough to steal from the Federal government"....

...and people elected this woman to the BOCC.

You get what you vote for.

Anonymous said...

You really think people are afraid of being called a racist? Not from these postings .

voicee of reason said...

Yes if parents can't afford to feed them they shouldn't be having them however not every one falls into that neat little box u live n. So many people both single income and dual income families in this economy struggle being laid off losing jobs because someone n a third world country can do the job a dollar cheaper no one plans to b poor. I applaud ur father for his fortitude and making sure ur needs were met. Those were different times when we took pride in our country American made actually meant something

barefoot_mama said...

the sick thing is that people lie to get the free lunches and no body is verifying. My husbands dead beat ex wife gets 2346 a month in child support and has a husband that makes over 4k a month, they live in a big beautiful house on a golf course and she lied on the free lunch app and is now recieving it for their three daughters. We emailed the district and they said they would look into it but never did anything. They still receive free lunches when they are at their mom's house. It's discusting

Anonymous said...

Ugh. My son steals his lunches! I make way more than the limit and send in lunch money (sent that is) every day but my son, who has lots of issues (he's adopted with serious behavior problems) kept the money. I got a huge bill at end of year. NOW I pay through school billing (not giving my son cash) BUT he just does whatever he wants---conduct disorder/defiance---and gets 'extra' because the school insists that if he asks 'we have to give'---ugh!!! I should be paying full lunch and breakfast at 800/ year but last year I got billed for ~1800 dollars! I sent lunches this year and he still buys and doesn't eat what packed (so far I've got an overdue bill of 765 dollars and it is only 3 months into the school year)!!!

Honestly, I get pissed. It is cheaper to have him committed to behavior ward because then his healthcare covers it!

Unknown said...

i cant believe almost everyone of you.Reading these comments have honestly made me cry.Do you really believe that if hispanics and blacks were out of the picture that paying taxes would end?Its amazing to me how easily you can judge people without even knowing them.And the comment about separating the poor from the rich? somebody please explain to me how is that any different than black from white?this situation can happen to ANYBODY.The sooner you realize that the better.You all should be ashamed of yourselves.All i have read so far were ugly,nasty,personality's.This is whats wrong with America today.The bitterness,the selfishness,and the pride.Now i understand why God cry's for us.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The other day a student i know is on free lunch was picked up in a bmw and was sporting the newest iphone. It's infuriatng considering we make good money and work out asses off and yet we don't have such things because we actually pay taxes. A lot of the folks in our area play the system; make cash under the table and receive welfare benefits. Makes me sick.